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As a member of Generation X, I have visual memories of the discrete, physical sources through which I was expected to access information as a child and young adult. There were physical books—novels, informational texts, and monographs; encyclopedias, dictionaries, and almanacs; as well as newspapers, magazines, and scholarly journals. In school I was taught how and when to access each of these sources according to the type of information I needed.

As a lifelong bibliophile, I have always had bookshelves that overflowed with books in my home, but they tended to be the type that I read most often and could afford—fiction novels and informational texts. Growing up, my family maintained subscriptions to the local newspaper and a few magazines, but we were generally not able to afford many of these. We were able to acquire a set of Funk & Wagnalls encyclopedias due to a special program via our local grocery store that enabled us to purchase one volume at a time over several years. I was so excited to have this set in our home; I could look up any topic at any time!

I can picture the newspaper being delivered to our door and how it felt to handle and read the articles organized throughout the large pages of newsprint. The same goes for scholarly journals; in college I remember how a room filled with stacks of journals looked—some single issues, some bound into large sets—and how it felt to sort through them to locate the articles I needed for an assignment that required in-depth research. Accessing some of these resources could be time-consuming since it often required a trip to my local school, public, or academic library. Yet I took comfort in knowing that these static sources of information, which had generally undergone a rigorous editing and publication process, would be available and accessible within those defined spaces.

As we all know, the information-gathering process changed with the rapid transition to digital sources in the Internet Age. I still remember the feeling of cognitive dissonance when, in 2000 (only three years after I concluded my undergraduate degree) I entered the academic library where I was completing my first master’s degree and was unable to locate a card catalog or journal stacks. When I inquired about this at the circulation desk, the library staff member waved her hand in the direction of a bank of desktop computers along a wall and indicated I would need to access the “databases.” I was completely lost as to what that was and admit that I was too embarrassed to ask for help. (This experience served as an important note to my future librarian-self: always offer to help patrons—don’t assume they know what to do but do assume they may be afraid to ask for help.)

Just that one change to how I was required to access information felt like a huge shock. Once I realized that databases were simply online collections of articles I would have previously searched through in physical journals, I better understood how to proceed. Learning how to effectively search the databases required new skills, however, and that took some time and assistance to learn. After I became accustomed to this, I greatly appreciated the convenience of this new method of information access through the library’s computers.

By the mid-aughts I was working as a high school library media specialist and witnessed the transition to Web 2.0 technologies by which anyone could easily edit webpages—and which gave rise to Wikipedia. In theory, Wikipedia was a great idea: a free online encyclopedia that is always current and edited by experts in their respective fields. However, we have since learned there aren’t enough Wikipedia staff available to verify all edits as correct, bad actors upload incorrect information, and the experts who have spent years of their lives conducting research generally want to either get paid for their work or obtain credit publishing it in more scholarly, reputable sources. Even Wikipedia admits that its entries are not completely trustworthy.1

Since that time, we have witnessed a more widespread use of and dependence upon information that can be accessed freely online. Yet these “free” sources are not truly free. They are paid for by advertisements and the collection of personal data (which is used to aggressively solicit users’ money in various ways), and apart from open access sources, they generally do not contain current copyrighted material. They are also governed by algorithms, which are sets of mathematical operations precisely defined to perform a particular task.2 These algorithms can be manipulated to return results according to the values of the company or individuals that designed them.3 With the emergence of generative AI models governed by algorithms and producing outputs based on information sources unknown to the user, it is becoming much more difficult to discern whether what is found online is true.

In recent years I have been contemplating the concept of a “knowledge gap” that has emerged among the younger generations. According to E.D. Hirsch, Jr. and Natalie Wexler, the K-12 standards-based movement created an educational system that de-emphasized the teaching of content and over-emphasized the teaching of skills as the curriculum shifted to preparing students to pass high-stakes standardized tests. Any content area that was not covered in the tests (usually History/Social Studies and Science) was given much less attention than those that would be tested (usually English-Language Arts and Math).4 This lack of focused instruction in some subject areas, coupled with the common refrain that you can “just Google it,” has created a generation of young people that lack a personal base of content knowledge to which they can compare the information they find “freely” online and discern whether it is trustworthy or useful for meeting their needs.

There is also a knowledge gap in information-seeking behaviors. Generation Z—the current student population of our high schools, colleges, and universities—has had little interaction with traditional, physical sources of information other than a novel or informational text. To them, information is words or images on a screen. They locate and consume this information primarily through web browsers, social media applications, and now generative artificial intelligence models. If an instructor requires them to use a journal or newspaper article, they generally don’t know what that is, nor why they might need or want to access one.

The effective use of “free” online resources requires one of two conditions: either a large base of personal knowledge to which one can compare the received results to determine if they are correct and useful for meeting information needs, or the skills to verify what one locates freely online according to a defined repository of knowledge to which one has access.

The Christian library, whether serving a school, college, or seminary, exists to develop both options. First, its librarians curate an ordered collection of resources that aligns with the institution’s mission and curriculum and the research needs of its students. This repository of knowledge contains sources that cannot be accessed freely online and are overall of a higher academic quality than what is available freely online. Ultimately, the goal of this collection is to enable its users to discover truth and the knowledge needed to fulfill God’s unique purpose for their lives.

Second, its librarians that help teach students, faculty, and staff how to access, analyze, evaluate, and ethically use increasingly more diverse and complex information resources effectively. This set of skills is variously referred to as information literacy, media literacy, or discernment, and is essential to teaching students how to think critically about the resources they consume and products they create.

In an environment where so much information is believed to be freely accessible, leaders of some Christian institutions may see an opportunity to reduce their investment in library resources and services. However, if they understand that the library is a source of the first two necessary resources mentioned above, they will realize it is indispensable in the perpetual spiritual battle for truth (Ephesians 6:12-14) in the online space. Within this arena, a robust library program trains the believer to recognize that “the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:4) and provides verified sources of truth to “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). How might our perspectives and actions change if we began to treat the library as an essential component of defense in this battle?


  1. “Wikipedia:General disclaimer.” Wikipedia. November 12, 2023.
  2. Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. “algorithm (n.), sense 2,” July 2023,
  3. Fleur Jongepier and Michael Klenk, eds., The Philosophy of Online Manipulation. (Milton: Taylor & Francis Group, 2022).
  4. Hirsch, Jr., Why Knowledge Matters: Rescuing Our Children from Failed Educational Theories (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press, 2016); Wexler, The Knowledge Gap: The Hidden Cause of America’s Broken Education System – And How to Fix It (New York: Avery, 2019).

Melanie Lewis Croft

Melanie Lewis Croft, Ed.D., is Director of Library Services at Anderson University in South Carolina.